Are You Tired, Stressed, Hot, Irritable...Perimenopause Might Be the Culprit!
Perimenopause, "around menopause," affects many women during the time leading up to menopause. You may still be having periods, but the ovarian function is declining, and estrogen levels are beginning to drop. It's not unusual for most women to begin to experience perimenopause in their 30's and 40's; it often starts 8-10 years before menopause. Symptoms can vary widely during perimenopause. Some may be very mild, while others will notice significant physical, emotional, and psychological changes as their body begins to feel the effects of estrogen withdrawal. Periods often become irregular and menstrual cycles shorter. Symptoms such as hot flashes, skin flushing, and night sweats can begin years before the onset of menopause. Mood changes, sleep disturbances, and mental fog are common, as are fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and vaginal dryness. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can provide significant relief for some of the most problematic symptoms of perimenopause without the potential side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. TCM addresses the whole body, not just the symptoms, and in this case, the body's hormonal cycles are closely related to the energy of the Liver and Kidney systems. The Liver is the storehouse of the blood and is responsible for the smooth functioning of the body's cyclical process, including menstruation. The Kidneys store the Jing, or vital essence, which naturally declines as we age. We are all born with a fixed amount of Jing, which cannot be replenished once it's depleted. The TCM approach to treating perimenopause usually involves tonifying the Kidneys and regulating the Liver. Acupuncture helps ease the perimenopausal transition by mitigating symptoms and restoring balance. 1. HOT FLASHES It's the first symptom that comes to mind when we think of a menopausal woman. It's one of the most common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. Hot flashes occur when the body's cooling, Yin energy declines, resulting in a relative excess of the body's Yang energy. Yang ascends to the upper body, causing heat sensations and red flushing of the skin of the face, neck, and chest. Yin is naturally dominant at night, but if the body's Yin energy isn't sufficient to anchor the Yang, Yang will become dominant, causing night sweats. The TCM approach boosts the body's Yin energy, keeping the Yang in check while clearing out excess heat. At a physiological level, acupuncture can help cool you down by promoting blood vessel dilation, stimulating the release of endorphins, and regulating the hypothalamus, your body's internal thermostat. 2. MOOD CHANGES Irritability, anxiety, depression, and anger often result from the hormonal changes of perimenopause. Estrogen affects the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that boost feelings of happiness. Less estrogen equals lower neurotransmitter levels equals more mood instability. TCM theory knows the Liver system is at the root of perimenopausal mood disturbances. When the Liver system is out of balance, you'll have more significant fluctuations in your hormone levels. Additionally, each of the organ systems in TCM has an associated emotion, and the emotion of the Liver is anger. When the Liver system goes haywire, it is because of varying hormone levels which lead to flares of anger, perimenopause anger. The good news is that acupuncture is incredibly effective at balancing the Liver system and stabilizing the mood. In addition to treating irritability and excessive anger, acupuncture has a proven track record in benefiting depression and anxiety. 3. MEMORY AND MENTAL FOCUS Do memory and mental focus seem harder? You're not alone. Estrogen affects brain function by promoting neuronal growth and survival while supporting the cognitive function of the prefrontal cortex. When estrogen declines during perimenopause, the brain feels the effects. Other perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, and depression can also cause impairments in cognitive function. The brain is known as the Sea of Marrow in TCM and is considered one of the six Extraordinary Organs. The brain is supported by the Jing of the Kidneys and nourished by the blood made by the Spleen, stored in the Liver, circulated by the Heart, and oxygenated by the Lungs. In essence, all of your organ systems play a role in supporting the Sea of Marrow, and when any of them are out of balance, brain function suffers. Both animal studies and human studies have demonstrated a positive effect of acupuncture on cognitive impairment. 4. FATIGUE Tired all the time? Fatigue during perimenopause can be caused by a combination of factors, including fluctuating hormone levels and sleep disturbances. When treating fatigue, an acupuncturist will usually focus on the digestive system and the Kidneys. The Spleen and Stomach are known as the Root of Post-Heaven Essence, meaning they extract nutrients from the food we consume to power our body's metabolic processes. When the digestive system is weak, we have to dip into our reserve of Pre-Heaven Essence, or Jing, which is stored in the Kidneys. Jing naturally declines as we age, and unlike nutrients from the food we eat, Jing cannot be replenished. So a healthy digestive system not only improves energy it also prevents premature aging. Acupuncture can help boost energy levels and treat chronic fatigue. It also treats sleep disturbances, a common issue in perimenopause and a cause of low energy levels during the day. 5. MENSTRUAL CYCLE CHANGES Menstrual cycle changes are often an early indicator of perimenopause. Skipped periods, shorter cycles, and heavier or lighter periods are all common. Although there's no escaping the day when you'll officially be in menopause, defined as one year without a period, acupuncture can help make your periods more bearable by increasing circulation to the ovaries and uterus and regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. This feedback loop governs the unfolding of the cycle. Acupuncture also has been shown to benefit polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and painful periods. In treating menstrual irregularities with TCM, we'll again look to the Liver system since it regulates the body's cycles and stores the blood. Treatment may also involve supporting the Spleen, which makes the blood, and the Heart, which governs and circulates the blood. Acupuncture helps with many other perimenopausal issues, including insomnia, changes to the skin such as acne and dryness, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, hair loss, and breast tenderness. Perimenopause is a natural part of life, but it doesn't have to be miserable! Think of it as an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with your own body. Acupuncture is a proven, effective treatment to manage the transition to your post-menopausal years and prepare you for your life's next great adventure. Gulf Coast Acupuncture and Fertility, your leading women's health and fertility acupuncture clinic, is now accepting new patients. You're only a phone call away from starting to feel like yourself again. (850)331-9991